New FWPD liaison officer ‘ready for a new challenge’

Officer Kellie Whitehead tapped to take over as LGBT liaison, says she hopes to work more with youth

Whitehead.Kellie

Kellie Whitehead

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Fort Worth Police Department Officer Kellie Whitehead said this week that she sees her new assignment as the department’s liaison to the LGBT community as an exciting next step in her 12-year career with the department.

“I was ready for a new challenge, for something different, and after talking to [former LGBT Liaison Officer Sara Straten] I was very excited about this new opportunity,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead takes over as LGBT liaison from Straten, who had held the position since it was created two years ago in the wake of the

Rainbow Lounge raid. The liaison officer is part of the FWPD’s Public Information Office, and PIO Supervisor Sgt. Pedro Criado said that Straten had chosen to move to a new position “where she can get back to doing hands-on police work.”

Criado said that Whitehead’s previous assignment as a Neighborhood Police Officer had given her experience that will be invaluable in her new role as LGBT liaison.

“The Neighborhood Police Officer program is about community policing. These officers are assigned to work in a specific designated area and to build relationships with the people of that neighborhood,” Criado explained.

“A patrol officer responds to specific calls and has to clear those calls and move on to the next one. The Neighborhood Police Officer is the one who is there, on call 24-7, to follow up on any problems. They are mediators, friends, problem solvers. This program frees these officers up, gives them flexible schedules, so they can work on issues long-range,” Criado added.

That, Whitehead said, is basically the same mission she has now as liaison officer, only instead of working in a specific geographic neighborhood she will be working specifically with the LGBT community city-wide.

Whitehead said that she will continue the work Straten initiated as LGBT liaison, and that she also hopes to expand the position’s outreach.

“I am going to continue to build the relationships that Sara started, and I hope that maybe I can work a little more with the kids in the community. I know there are kids out there who are having a really tough time, and I want to find ways to help them,” Whitehead said.

She said she also hopes to be able to reach out to non-LGBT youth “who have been raised not to be accepting of people who are different from them” and help bridge that gap in understanding and tolerance.

Whitehead, who grew up in Mineral Wells, said that being a police officer had been her dream since she was a child. She said she studied criminal justice in college, but had to leave school to get a job before she got a degree.

She worked as a private prison for a couple of years and then moved on to a job with a security company. It was while working as a security guard in Fort Worth’s hospital district that she began to meet and form relationships with FWPD officers.

She finally was able to join the FWPD in 1999.

Whitehead said she has been open with her fellow officers and her superiors about her sexual orientation since she first joined the police force, and that she has never faced any discrimination from her coworkers.

But now, in her new position as LGBT liaison, “I’ll be more out than ever! But I am ready for it. I have never been ashamed of who I am.”

Whitehead said that her partner and the rest of her family have been “totally supportive” of her move to the liaison position, and that she believes that kind of support is vital to her success as an officer and as community liaison.

“There’s no way you can do this job without your family backing you up, and everyone in my family has been very supportive and encouraging,” she said. “That’s going to make it even easier for me to do the job and do it well. I just want to do everything I can to make things better for the community.”

Thomas Anable, president of the LGBT community organization Fairness Fort Worth, said he is pleased with the way the police department has handled the transition from Straten to Whitehead, and that he looks forward to working with the new liaison officer.

“I think she is very professional and I think she will do a very good job,” Anable said.

And Sgt. Criado agreed. “When Sara Straten took this position two years ago, she hit the ground running,” he said. “And I am certain that Kellie is going to take that ball and just keep on running with it. I think she is going to be great.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

BREAKING: Piazza leaving Dallas for Atlanta

The Rev. Michael Piazza

The Rev. Michael Piazza, who since 1987 has been a force in the gay faith community in North Texas, has accepted a position as pastor of Virginia-Highland Church in Atlanta.

Accompanying Piazza will be his longtime executive assistant, David Plunkett.

“This all happened literally yesterday,” Plunkett said. “We got back from Atlanta at 2 this morning.”

Piazza stepped down as senior pastor at the Cathedral of Hope several years ago and transitioned into the role of dean of the church. That affiliation ended last March, although Plunkett said many people still do not realize it (in part because Piazza and Plunkett still office at the Cathedral COH, where they work with the Center for Progressive Renewal and Hope for Peace and Justice).

“Last year was the first year in Rev. Piazza’s adult life when he was not pastoring a church,” Plunkett said. “He is very, very good at what he does now [teaching other clergy], but at heart, as anyone who has heard him on a Sunday in the pulpit, he’s a prophetic preacher.”

Plunkett described the Virginia-Highland Church as “a once-vibrant church in desperate need of revitalization.” Although not currently a predominantly gay church, Plunkett said it has a history of inclusiveness.

“It was Southern Baptist, but [got] kicked out of the denomination because they refused to dismiss a gay pastor” some years back, Plunkett said. Virginia-Highland is currently dual-affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the United Church of Christ (the same denomination as COH).

At first, Piazza will not be full time, but will continue his work with the CPR, which is based in Atlanta. Plunkett will be largely full time at the church. He has worked with Piazza for the past nine years, and will aid in the transition. The start date for the team will be March 1.

Plunkett, who has been active in the theater community, said leaving will be bittersweet for him as well. He grew up in Plano.

Plunkett said Piazza likely would not have an opportunity to deliver a farewell sermon in Dallas, even if asked.

More to come ….

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Minehart announces departure from Lone Star Ride

Dave Minehart

Dave Minehart announced he will leave the Lone Star Ride. He has participated in the ride for all 10 years of its existence, the first seven as a volunteer and the last three as event manager.

He has accepted a new position as development director for a nonprofit organization in his hometown, Iowa City, Iowa. He has been in Texas for the past 28 years but over the past seven, his goal has been to move closer to family.

“I’m leaving you in very, very capable hands,” Minehart said.

Laura Kerr is the incoming board chair. Co-chairs of the ride are John Tripp and Danny Simpson. Tripp co-chaired the ride this year and Simpson has been responsible for fundraising events outside the ride and participated in it for a number of years.

Minehart said he hopes to be at Lone Star Ride next year, depending on his schedule with his new job.

“Lone Star Ride is on a role and it’s going to keep going,” he said. “I hold extreme affection for the event, the people involved and the beneficiaries.”

His last day at Lone Star Ride is Dec. 27 and he begins his new job on Jan. 5.

—  David Taffet